In this week's Torah portion, we fluctuate between some of the Jewish
people's highest and lowest points during their forty-year sojourn in the
wilderness. We learn about how with Miriam's passing, the water that
miraculously flowed from a rock accompanying the people on their journeys,
suddenly dried up. The water had flowed in Miriam's merit; with her
departure from this world, the waters ceased flowing.
To the nation's enormous credit, although they had just lost their critical
water supply, they broke out into an ecstatic song in tribute to Miriam and
the blessing of life-sustaining water she was responsible for. The Torah
records this song-Shiras Hab'air-for posterity, implying that there is an
eternal message to be gleaned from this ode of joy.
What sublime message lies within this joyous outburst? And would it not have
been more timely while the well was still operative? Its drying up should
have been a source of consternation, pain and uncertainty for the future.
Shouldn't those reactions have overshadowed the people's joy?
To appreciate the underlying message of the song, we need to explore the
nature of the special merit Miriam possessed that triggered a forty-year
flow of blessing for an entire people. Miriam was endowed with a quality
that resembled water. Water is the least viscous of all substances; its
supreme fluidity enables it to take on the contours of whichever vessel it
is stored in. Although it is the vital source of all life, its character and
properties melt to accommodate its immediate environment. It was this
character quality that Miriam possessed.
As a people, we have endured the most challenging of times. The chapters of
our history book are blood-soaked; they overflow with pain. Yet, no chapter
is more harrowing than our nation's experiences in the crucible of the
Egyptian exile. Subjected to daily tortures and the harshest servitude
without any sign of respite, the people faced an abyss of despair. One tiny
glimmer of hope sustained them-the glowing faces of their precious children.
When Pharaoh decreed that the children should be thrown in the Nile river,
thier last ember of hope was extinguished. Despair engulfed the nation.
Not Miriam. She accompanied her mother as an assistant midwife, ensuring
that new Jewish life would be brought forth into the world. She is recorded
for posterity in the Torah as Pu'ah, the one who cooed and sang lullabies to
the children who Paroh had consigned to a terrible fate. Miriam could sing
even in the darkest prison cell. She could see the twinkling lights of a
better tomorrow when only gloom and misery beckoned from the horizon. Miriam
embodied the power of song and the amazing properties of water.
Upon Miriam's passing, the people were immediately confronted with a
monumental challenge. Their life source had dried up. Once again they faced
a harrowing end, in danger of dying of thirst in the Sinai expanse. Yet
Miriam left a legacy that they had imbibed and absorbed. They were capable
of singing even in the darkest moments.
My wife, who is the supervisor at a local pre school for severely
handicapped children, shared with me an interesting anecdote last week. A
co-worker told her that she had spent Shabbos at a Yachad convention, where
parents of severely impaired children joined for a weekend of inspiration
and rejuvenation. One couple shared their life journey with the assembled in
a moving address. They had a severely autistic child who, as they were
speaking, was tugging at them and disrupting the talk. He was clearly a
supreme challenge to control.
The father related the anguish and frustration that he and his wife
experienced after the child was born, especially during his first years.
They felt that he had derailed their entire life, and they attempted to deal
with the disruption as best as possible, trying to survive one day at a
time. He told the assembled that his life took a 180-degree turn when he and
his wife went through a dramatic change in attitude.
Until now they were dealing with the situation in an adversarial way, trying
not to let it dominate their attention and resources. He suddenly realized
that this was not something that they simply had to 'deal' with, but that in
a deeper sense, it was their career and integral to their life path. Rather
than treating the situation as a problem that had to be marginalized, he and
his wife embraced it, and henceforth their family has become enriched with
the presence of their autistic son.
In our own lives, we too, face daily challenges and travails as we negotiate
the bumps, twists and turns of our life terrain. At times, a person
experiences a sense of hopelessness, as if an impenetrable brick wall is
cutting off all exit. The message and spirit of Miriam's shira points the
way for us to rise above the most difficult challenges. By allowing our
faith to adapt to the contours of whatever situation Hashem sends us, and
singing through the raindrops, we survive the storms.